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A Wheaten Bread Recipe

A Wheaten Bread Recipe

Growing up in Ireland has meant that I have a natural affinity for bread products. Just take a look at the classic Ulster Fry and you will see a plate riddled with carbs; toasted soda farl, potato bread, pancakes and a few rounds of toast. For me though the crowning glory of Irish bread has to be the humble wheaten. As a child I would always go straight for the wheaten loaf in my granny’s house where there would always be a stock kept high on the counter wrapped in a kitchen towel. I would slather it in butter followed by raspberry jam and wash it down with a mug of tea (you cannot have a toasted wheaten without tea and that’s a scientific fact).

For the unfortunate amongst you who don’t know what wheaten bread is (oh my, what you have been missing out on), it’s a bread (duh) made from wholemeal wheat. What makes it different to other breads (and therefore easier to make) is that it doesn’t contain yeast; bicarbonate of soda is used instead as the leavening agent. Buttermilk is also used instead of regular milk which reacts with the bicarbonate of soda which gives it it’s distinctive consistency (and yumminess).

To this day, wheaten bread remains one of my favourite snacks, especially at this time of year when the nights are begging for a nostalgic treat. It was the food I missed the most when I lived in Australia; so much so that I actually packed a couple of loaves in my suitcase to take back with me when I was home visiting. It was and still is the food that tastes like home to me.

Another reason why I love it is because it’s so freakin’ easy to make. No yeast means there’s no temperature controls to be monitored or waiting around for the rise. You can throw this recipe together in the space of an hour and serve it to guests who will think you are a culinary goddess (as well as creating a smell that will make your house smell divine).

I’ve included the standard recipe that I tend to use though of course there are a few local twists you can make to it according to where you’re from. It’s a recipe that’s as old as the hills and every family likes to garnish it their own way. Toast it and slather with butter and jam or eat it with some slices of mature cheddar or add some salmon and dill and serve as a festive amuse-bouche if you don’t mind or serve it as a side to some hearty chowder or soup on a winter’s evening.

It can be sliced gracefully or it can be ripped apart while you stand in the kitchen holding a jar of jam. What it will always be though is a recipe that will make you feel like you’re at home, even when you aren’t.


Irish Wheaten Bread

Ingredients

  • 300g wholewheat flour
  • 100 grams plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 300mls buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.
  2. Place the flours, salt and bicarb in a bowl, stirring to combine.
  3. Using your fingertips, rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  5. Gradually stir in the buttermilk until you get a soft, but not sticky, dough. You won’t need to use all of it. Don’t worry too much if it is sticky -just dust with some extra flour!
  6. Turn out onto a floured surface, and briefly knead the dough (with your knuckles). Pop the dough into a lightly floured 20 cm cake tin or bread loaf tin, and shape into a round.
  7. Using a sharp knife, mark the dough into four farls or slice if using bread tin. Brush the surface with a little extra buttermilk, then sprinkle over the oats (or some additional flour).
  8. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. A cake tester should come out pretty much clean when it is ready.
  9. Leave to cool on a wire rack for as long as you can bear. Enjoy!

 

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10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

Happy Monday friends! Has your week started off the way you had hoped? Tired already? ‘Tis the season for constant tail-chasing after all which can often lead to us forgetting to just be and enjoy everything wonderful the festive seasons brings along with it. There is a lot of pressure, especially on parents I think, to have the most-absolutely-amazingly-fun-Christmas-ever turning moments that are supposed to be fun and light-hearted in to this mess of forced memories we are intent on making for ourselves.

How about instead of rushing around trying to tick off a crazy festive bucket list, we make time for the wee moments and not berate ourselves for missing out something that would have stressed us out? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to the big Christmas light switch-on (crowds of people gathered in the freezing cold ain’t for everyone) or feel like standing in queue for another freakin’ grotto (for a photo that will probably scar your child). How about doing something that won’t stress you out or your family?

I’ve created a list of things I know will personally bring me a wee bit of happiness in between all the shopping and innumerable social gatherings (I am even socialising midweek now!). Feel free to take a few ideas for yourself but remember, don’t put the pressure on to do it all. Think about why you’re doing it and if you’re not doing it for the pure joy of it then strike it off the list.

Go Ice Skating

It’s not for everyone but I love the adrenaline of trying to stay vertical while giving my thighs the biggest workout they’ve seen all year. It’s fun (to me anyway) and is a real winter novelty that I have no shame in indulging in. For those local to Belfast there is always the trusty Dundonald rink that I’ve been going to since I was a youngster but there’s also a rink opening for a few days over the winter break at the SSE Arena OR if you want to go really crazy, grab some tickets for the Winter Wonderland at the Clandeboyne Estate which would be a real festive treat.

Christmas Crafting

For me, making a homemade wreath or crafting presents to hand out to my loved ones is something that can bring the most happiness at this time of year than anything else. It’s a quiet time for just me amongst all the noise which is imperative for me to keep my sanity (while making a complete mess).

Sing Carols

I am no singer and not a church-goer and yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about attending a carolling service. If you’re not part of a church like me then try something different like attending a night at the orchestra at the Ulster Hall? My favourite is ‘Fall On Your Knees’ all because of Home Alone, of course.

Local Christmas Markets

The Belfast markets can be complete madness and can actually be more stressful than fun. However smaller local markets can be just as enjoyable and filled with tasty treats that you don’t have to queue an hour for. Have a wee nosy at the Discover NI website to see when your local market is next on.

See a Pantomime/Play/Musical

Local theatres are packed with festive productions which we should make the most of getting off our couches to see. I have the best memories of sitting on the floor watching a pantomime at my local leisure centre as a kid (while losing all feeling in my ass). I’m trying to find children to borrow so I can see this musical otherwise I’ll be the eccentric lady on her own who brought her own snacks!

Watch old Christmas movies

You can do this at home of course with the fire lit and the family cocooned in a mass of duvets but some cinemas play the classics which can be a fun way to see the old favourites. I love watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the Queen’s Film Theatre each year. The theatre is a Belfast institution and has these old vintage cinema seats that feel about a hundred years old (probably because they are). They also cater for people with disabilities (dementia, autism) so everyone can delve in to a bit of nostalgia on the screen.

Celebrate the Solstice

Step back in time and celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice at the Navan Fort centre in Armagh. My hometown is steeped in ancient Celtic history and the Navan Fort are mirroring the customs of our ancestors through a morning of traditional celebrations followed by a lantern-lit walk up the fort were re-enactors will welcome the breaking of the dawn. The whole event is free unless you want to nibble on a bit of breakfast afterwards which you can enjoy for 4 quid – bargain!

Make homemade mulled wine

Or cider! Here’s an easy recipe for mulled wine that will scent your house like a friggin’ Christmas perfumery. Make a batch and keep some for the visitors that stream through the house. Not too much though or they’ll never leave.

Look out for others

Without sounding like a TV ad, this time of year can be tougher on those who live alongside us, especially the elderly who can be a tad more vulnerable in the colder months. We’re lucky to have Maureen as our neighbour and while she’s fully capable of looking after herself (she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if I could help her with the 10kg box of washing powder she was lugging in to her house the other day), it’s still good to check in once in a while. I would hate to think of my Granny on her own with no one looking out for her so it’s nice to treat those around us with a little more care.

Forage for decorations

We can all go a little crazy with the decorations this time of year which is the last thing our wallets need. To try and save pennies I’ve been bringing a few things back from my winter walks. A wee bit of holly, some ivy or even pine cones to roast in the oven (an idea I stole from my friend Caoimhe, you can find a way to do it here). I’ve been decorating the fireplace, the dining table and coffee table with these foraged finds which feels a bit more special than wasting money on another garland from a chain store.

 

Oh writing this list got me a little bit excited! What about you? What festive activities are you hoping to do this year??

 

What Not To Worry About #43

What Not To Worry About #43

Happy Thanksgiving Day to my transatlantic pals!! I hope the turkey is tastin’ good and the gravy turned out a tad thicker than aul Trump’s hair. I am playing American myself this evening and hosting some friends for my own Friendsgiving dinner with an Irish twist (no marshmallow on sweet potato thank you very much – absolute sacrilege) but most of all I am excited to try making bread rolls for the first time (and wine!), please pray that they turn out well!

It seems that the festive season is among us now whether we like it or not. The city Christmas lights have been switched on, the markets have been opened and the TV adverts are making us weep in to our dinners. And do you know what? I think I’m OK with it. Maybe because I’ve been abnormally organised and have ticked off half of my gift list (who even is this person typing this?!) and now I’m just patiently waiting until the 1st December when I can move my couch from the door that leads to the cupboard under the stairs where all my decorations are stashed.

I’m feeling just a little bit excited about untangling the never-ending stream of tree lights (and cursing them when I see there’s even more broken than the year before). Covering myself in bits of tinsel while blasting the Christmas music through the house which Andrew will undoubtedly turn down and then I will turn back up again. Unearthing decorations I completely forgot about and then go out and buy even more because there’s never enough. Making my own wreath at the dinner table and covering the house in pine needles. Rediscovering my love of red wine (but not the hangovers). Making hot whiskeys for my guests. Baking gingerbread that permeates through the house like a warm hug. Holidays are comin’ folks!

However you may feel about this time of year, there is no denying that there is just a little bit of magic in the air. The crisp wind bites around our ears and noses as the stars twinkle above us well before we go to bed. The little moments become more meaningful; a cup of tea that warms us up perfectly, a catch up with a mate you haven’t seen in ages, wriggling in to clean flannel PJ’s after a hot bath. Comforting in the smallest of joys is my favourite thing about winter.

Here are a few things I am letting go of this week…

People who put their decorations up in November – usually I give off about this because I am always afraid of being burnt out my Christmas before it even arrives but there is a wee sneaky glee when I’ve been driving past houses shrouded in festive spirit. The people who celebrate Christmas a little early tend to be the one’s that go hell for leather too – wonderfully tacky reindeers and Santa’s and elves. I always wonder, how much is their freakin’ electric bill?! I am old.

A cough that just won’t quit – I have had the most annoying cough the last few weeks and I have had to sleep propped up like a pensioner otherwise I bark all night which is no fun for anybody. The doctor diagnosed me with tracheitis and said I just have to “ride it out” which is exactly what you want to be prescribed, isn’t it? I’ve been trying ginger tea but if anyone has any other wee old wive’s cures then hit them this way please!

Being a wife – now I know I am not a wife but there might be a chance that I will some day and that terrifies the crap out of me. Will I suddenly have to don an apron and be responsible for keeping a tidy home? Being a Mrs. also sounds really weird too and reminds me too much of being a middle-aged teacher. A feminist manifesto from the 1970’s resurfaced in this article and I loved how relevant it still is for modern wives – they have to be everything to everyone and that sounds bloody exhausting doesn’t it?

Saying no – I talked about the workshop I took part in recently that talked about different personality traits and I discovered, to no surprise, that I am a people pleaser. If you’re like me then this time of year can be a struggle because you want to be stuck in with everything but this can be exhausting. This year, while I relish in being around friends and family, I’ll also be sure to take a little time to myself too.

Struggling with words – sometimes writing this wee blog can cause me to feel insecure about my words, if they mean something or if they connect with anyone. Reading pieces like this make me fall back in love with writing again.

 

Enjoy the rest of your week friends!

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

Have you ever taken the Myers-Brigg’s type indicator test? It’s basically a personality test that reveals differing psychological preferences in how we perceive the world and make decisions and can be scarily accurate! It’s also become hugely popular as a management tool within the workplace as it creates awareness of differing personal and professional traits and encourages a greater level of understanding amongst teams. I was offered the chance to attend a workshop last week where we discovered what “type” we were and how our type should be treated by others. It also taught us how to identify other personality types and how best to manage them which in an close work environment can be testing even for the best of us!

It was an intense day full of psycho-analysis but by the end of the workshop I discovered I was type “ESFP” which can be broken down as:

E = Extraversion (how I focus my attention and get my energy)

S = Sensing (How I perceive or take in information)

F = Feeling (How I prefer to make decisions)

P = Perception (How I orientate myself to the external world)

This will all sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo if you haven’t taken the test before but I found it unbelievable how accurate the “type” I was given fitted me and made me realise that I’m not a scatter brain because I don’t care, it’s my type! I also found that ESFP’s are true helpers and eternal people pleasers which wasn’t a huge surprise (my name is Greek for “helper of mankind” for frig sake) and that they love to lift others’ spirits with their contagious good humour and their irrepressible joy of living (you’re welcome!). The not so great side of an ESFP is that we can be a little too sensitive to criticism and avoid conflict at all costs which can be tough trait to have at home and at work for both us and everyone around us. 

Aside from finding out that I am a needy wuss, another thing I found super interesting was how my own definition of an extrovert and introvert was all wrong. I had long assumed that extroverts are the super confident socialites who have no problem with talking in a crowd and that introverts were the typical shy mousey-types that cower when spoken to. All wrong! Being an extrovert or an introvert is actually the way in which we gain our energy and isn’t at all about confidence. 

Extroverts gain energy from being around other people and might find their energy levels are zapped when they spend too much time alone. I identified hugely with this because while I do look forward to a quiet evening at home now and again, I notice that I become a bit down when I do this too much. This is especially wearying during the winter when we all tend to retreat inside and social gatherings can become less frequent (Christmas craziness aside).

Introverts on the other hand gain energy from being alone and tend to feel drained after spending a long time in a large crowd. Introverts are stimulated much more easily than extroverts so being amongst a big group of people might feel a little overwhelming. This doesn’t mean they’re shy or that they avoid social situations, it just means that being alone with their thoughts can be as restorative to them as sleeping and are a necessity for them to recharge their batteries.

Of course there are the ambiverts amongst us who feel that they fall in the middle. In fact, most of us actually are ambiverts because if we fell at at the extreme end of extraversion or introversion we might be a little wacky! Either way we will still be a little more on one side than the other and so should address this side of our personality when we are feeling low and in need of a recharge. We should prioritise those moments we know will lift us out of the funk we are in, especially at this time of year when the dark evenings can drag us down a little. Here are a few tips, whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, on how to recharge those batteries this winter.


5 Ways To Gain Energy This Winter

Extroverts

  1. Become a hostess/host once a week and invite a different group of friends over for dinner. I love having people in my house for food and I’ve decided to try and host friends once a week for a big meal and lots of conversation which I know will lift me up, especially in the middle of the week when I’m feeling meh.
  2. Join a club whether it’s a book club, wine club or friggin’ Stranger Things club. I joined my office book club as a way to get me reading more but it’s also something I look forward to because it helps me break up my week with interesting conversation. Do a little digging and get yourself out there (I’m going to Mel Wiggin’s Assembly Gatherings this winter because being around creative people is a sure fire way to inspire the bejaysus out of me).
  3. Stop eating lunch at your desk! I can do this out of bad habit but when I make a conscious effort to eat step away from the computer and eat with friends I have so much more energy in the afternoon.
  4. Get your partner and friends involved in decorating the house and wrapping presents this festive season. Blast the Christmas music, get the mulled wine on and the fire lit to fill your house full of festive cheer.
  5. Volunteer for a worthy cause whether it be at your local homeless centre or charity shop. Whatever it is, ensure you are engaging with people that you know you can help and who might help you too.

Introverts

  1. Prioritise social events with people who make you feel comfortable. You know those mates you’ve known since you were a cub and can still make you laugh until your sides hurt? Make plenty of time for them this winter and decline invites to events that fill your tummy with dread.
  2. Go for a solo walk on your lunch break. Fill your lungs with fresh air and clear your mind of all the crap you’ve just had to listen to all morning. You will feel so much better.
  3. Introduce a social media ban after a certain time in the evening and stick to it. Your mind can’t focus when you have too much stimulation so try and hide your phone in the next room when you’re trying to dive in to that good book you’re reading.
  4. Block book at least one evening a week to do nothing over the festive period. This time of year can become a bit manic so be kind to yourself and give yourself the time you need to unwind.
  5. Make Christmas shopping fun by treating yourself to a little afternoon on your own. Get your list written down so you don’t go a bit mad in the shops, treat yourself to a hot chocolate (or something stronger) on your breaks and finish the day with a wee pamper (I’ve been dying to try the Jo Malone counter in House of Fraser for ages!)

 

I hope you find these tips helpful this winter but in the meantime, take the quiz and let me know what personality type you get – I’m fascinated to know who everyone is now!

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What Not To Worry About #42

What Not To Worry About #42

Happy Friday friends! Things have been a little quiet in this wee corner of the internet the last week or so and I have really missed nestling down and sharing my thoughts with you lovely lot. I’ve been finding it really hard to focus recently and the things that bring me so much joy (like this blog) have fallen to the wayside which has left me feeling even more disconnected. I have learned over the years to not rush myself when I am feeling like this since it’s important to let myself feel the hurt no matter how difficult it may be.

I spoke about losing my sister before and with her anniversary falling on the 5th November, this is a time of year that I struggle with her absence the most. It tends to bring back a lot of memories of the time we lost her which was horrific for everyone who loved her but it also stirs up memories of our childhood together too which is as heartwarming as it is painful. Grief, although omnipresent, can be harder to bear on certain days and despite the fact that it’s been 7 years since she passed away, I am still blindsided by my yearning to have her near me again.

Unfortunately losing someones we love is one of life’s greatest and most cruel lessons. Some of us may be lucky enough to be spared this lesson until we are in our thirties or forties but losing someone at a young age is a life-changing experience. We are thrusted in to reality unprepared for what lies ahead with few emotional tools to help us succeed in managing our grief. However we are given something that most people stumble through life unknowingly searching for. Something that allows us to appreciate everything we have. Gratitude.

Now I know the word ‘gratitude’ can be thrown about a little too flippantly and is normally associated with meditative jargon but to be truly grateful every day is nothing to be sneered at. Losing someone we love teaches us that everything in this life is temporary, that every moment and every word spoken has more weight carried within it than most people can even imagine and that even when things feel rough, we are still grateful to be alive to experience even a drop of sadness. I am grateful every day to have had Amy in my life and that gratitude allows me to appreciate all those memories. After all, I’m the only person on this earth that got to be her big sister, how lucky does that make me???

And with that gratitude in mind, here are a few things I am not worrying about this week. What are you letting go of???

Missing out on dating – Ah the single life. I do miss it now and again; the thrill of being attracted to someone and not being sure where it’s going, that little buzz in your tummy when you’re messaging and don’t want to ever stop. Reading this article brought all the fuzzies back but it also shared some really great advice for anyone who is single and in need of some encouragement.

Having weird turn-ons – OK so when Andrew and I met, these were the weird things that attracted me to him:

  1. He would be just as enthusiastic about Bake Off as I was
  2. He smoked rolled cigarettes (he has since quite bless him and I wasn’t a smoker but there was something so damn sexy about watching him roll, I was a hypnotised mess).
  3. He got excited about seeing his niece and nephew
  4. He would read aloud ‘Today I Learned’ stories from his favourite website before we went to sleep (this was from Reddit of course, he is a nerd after all)
  5. He wore a plain white t-shirt with jeans (I may have some sort of James Dean complex)
  6. He would keep everything from our dates and trips away knowing that I loved to make scrapbooks
  7. He loved board games
  8. He understood things I could never wrap my head around and would patiently explain them to me (coding, stocks, actually saving money)

The reason I’m sharing is because I read this article the other day and learned that having a bizarre turn on isn’t actually all that bizarre. In fact most of us have one or two – you have one too, don’t you?

Running out of conversation – I love having friends over for dinner this time of year, when people prefer staying indoors cosied around a table and eating good food. Sometimes the conversation can run a bit stale which is why I loved reading this, full of tips to ensure a good hostess never has to experience that awkward silence.

Gift mind blanks – The festive season is approaching and I’m trying to be organised this year with my gifts so I avoid the last minute dash to the week before Christmas and over-spend in panic. I’m trying to curate my gift list and man is it hard to buy for some people (especially Dads/boyfriends) – is there anything you use to help inspire you for gift ideas? Please help a girl out here.

Not being able to write – I’ve been feeling low about not being able to write because my mind was full of so many other things. I need to go easy on myself during times like this because it never lasts too long. I am so happy to be back here again.

 

Have a lovely weekend folks!!

What To Do With 12 Hours in Amsterdam

What To Do With 12 Hours in Amsterdam

Stopovers can be a very strange experience. It’s as if you enter a parallel universe where water costs 5 euro a pop and it becomes totally appropriate to drink whisky at 10am. Some people relish the opportunity to kill a few hours in an airport but personally I detest it. I always feel grubby, like I need a good hosing down after getting off the last plane that was a container full of germs. And I get bored of the shops within the first few minutes (mostly because I feel like a peasant who can’t afford any of the products they’re selling!).

There is truly no look that induces as much shame as the one from the snooty cosmetics lady at an airport is there? Especially the moment when she catches you spraying yourself from head to toe in an expensive perfume, asks you with about as much sarcasm as one can gather, if you need any assistance. No I don’t need any help thanks but I guess you knew that from the fact that I’m wearing furry socks with flip flops and have a fistful of samples in my sweaty hands! Oh the shame!

 

BUT. Sometimes, if you’ve been blessed with a stopover of more than a few hours, then that strange experience can actually turn out to be one of the best parts of the trip. A gift that gives you the opportunity to escape the madness and tension of the airport and upgrade your holiday by spending a few hours in a city you weren’t expecting to see. Why suffer when you can pop in to Dubai for a bit of breakfast? Or Hong Kong for dinner? Or, in our recent case, lunch in Amsterdam?? We had half a day to kill in between flights on our way home from Bali last month and jumped at the chance to explore the city instead of just moping about its airport. It might have been a flying visit (hardy har har) but it felt like we were getting a little taste of the Netherlands for just one day and it really was the perfect way to end an already amazing trip.

Here’s a few things that we managed to cram in during our 8 hours…

Dam Square

We got the train in to Centraal Station which only took around 20 minutes on the Sunday morning and couldn’t believe how easy it was to get right in to the city centre. From there we walked down the eerily quiet main street towards Dam Square which at 8am on a Sunday morning, was completely devoid of tourists. It felt as if we had the city to ourselves, strolling through the square and gazing up at the Royal Palace wondering where all the people were. It was incredibly peaceful so we were definitely not complaining.

Nine Streets

A hop over from Dam Square are the most photogenic streets in Amsterdam. Known to locals as ‘The 9 Streets’, the area is jammed with trendy shops, cafés and restaurants that you could easily spend a whole day wandering through. What we came here for though was the opportunity to get the quintessential Amsterdam photo of canals and bikes (have you even been to Amsterdam if you don’t have that photo?). It was a beautiful walk because it was so quiet, only a handful of early risers out walking their dogs on the hunt for their morning coffee. We popped in to Pluk when we were on a stroll and I instantly fell in love, a definite recommendation for a coffee break.

Bloemenmarkt

When you’re done taking photos by the canal, potter on down to the world’s first floating flower markets just a few minutes walk away. In the summer it will be a tulip paradise but in the colder months you will see the winter flowers making appearances with the sellers wrapped up from the cold. It’s best to get there early when the stalls are full of colours and before the punters have descended.

Koffieschenkerij De Oude Kerk

I’m not even going to try and pronounce the name of this café out loud but what I will say is that it’s a spot you have to pop in to for a bit of brunch or tea and cake. It’s located within the sacristy of the Oude Kerk church in the middle of the Red Light District – a church that has seen it’s fair share of sinners I’m sure! We ate our cake in the courtyard under Autumn blue skies and feeling very much at home amongst the rest of the Sunday brunchers. A worthwhile pitstop I can assure you.

After our treats we headed towards the airport feeling conflicted because we were both wishing we had a few more hours for our stopover while at the same time, dreaming of a hot shower and finally getting in to our own bed!

What Not To Worry About #41

What Not To Worry About #41

Hello friends! How are we feeling this Monday? There is a definite nip in the air in the mornings isn’t there? I’m finding myself getting out of bed a little slower, with one foot out first, tentatively testing the floor to check it’s not too cold before retreating back under the covers for just a few more minutes. The clocks are due to go forward this Saturday so the mornings will be even darker and the bed will feel even toastier I am sure. I might just have to start treating myself to a warm porridge to lure me out, with lots and lots of honey of course.

I hope your weekend was a good one despite Brian trying to out-do Ophelia with more wind and rain! Shannon (my little sister) and I had trotted down to Dublin for the weekend but the weather made it pretty difficult to see where we were going never mind actually seeing the pretty buildings. Fortunately Dublin isn’t short of cosy pubs to dry off in so we spent a few hours warming up between dodging puddles so we can’t complain too much.

In spite of the weather we still had a ball exploring Dublin and most of all, enjoying the wee luxuries that came with staying in the Merrion Hotel, a pretty swish hotel in the centre of town. The stay was a birthday gift from Shannon and my Dad and it was so exciting to feel like an aristocrat for 24 hours; the doorman welcoming us in, the concierge delivering our suitcases to our room, a little birthday tart waiting for us by our bed (the dessert you filthy minx!). Of course this is not the life we are used to so we lapped up every second and took a million photos of it all because if you don’t Instagram it, it hasn’t actually happened right?!

The most stylish elderly couple walking arm in arm (I had to take a photo!)

Luckily the weather cleared up on Sunday and we went for a mosey around St. Stephen’s Green, admiring elegant couples and ivy clad walls. After making a final stop in O’Donoghue’s (the birthplace of The Dubliners whose portraits you can find hanging on the walls), we drove down to the Powerscourt Hotel to admire the estate and the hills, bracing the chilly winds for a few seconds to snap a few photos before running back to the car. It’s a beautiful part of Ireland, so rugged and wild it’s hard to believe you’re only a half hour’s drive from the city. We promised ourselves that the next time we pretend to be fancy we will do it in this hotel and run about the heather like we’re in a Brontë novel.

Our doorman

Alas, we are back to porridge today and with that in mind, I have another weekly roundup of the unnecessary worries that I am letting go of for good. Feel free to borrow some of mine or even better, tell me some of yours? Would love to know!!

Choosing ethical clothing – in last week’s post I mentioned taking a few photos with my pal Mel Wiggins who is an inspiration to anyone who is wanting to make more ethical purchases when buying clothes. Sometimes we can really stress ourselves out when we go shopping, worrying if we’re contributing in any way to an industry that exploits the vulnerable & impoverished. This is where Mel steps in and introduces businesses that are doing it the right way and who are producing beautiful clothing that will save our conscience. Have a look at her latest post for more information including the photos we took while dandering around the Argory 🙂

Providing Hallowe’en treats – I LOVE Hallowe’en so it’s no surprise that I thoroughly enjoy decorating the house a little in preparation for the little visitors that descend upon the house searching for treats. Last year Andrew put a sheet up on the front window and had a scary projector show which amused the adults way more than the kids so we’ll be keeping that tradition up this year. Also, I’m going to be trying my hand at these bad boys to try and shake up the usual habit of buying a multipack of sweets that I just end up eating myself anyway!

Repetitive breakfasts – I am so boring when it comes to breakfasts! I have the same thing almost every day; granola, almond milk and chopped berries. Now that we’re approaching the dark and cold mornings I have decided I am going to start making porridge although I haven’t made it in years. Is there a good receipt to use that you’d recommend? Who does the best oats?? It’s the type of thing I should be ringing my Granny for!

Lack of documentaries – I have loved watching Louis Theroux’s new ‘Dark States’ series which has provided an incredible insight in to working class poverty in America. The series has finished now but the new series of Blue Planet will be starting this week and I am so so so excited to hear David Attenborough’s grandfatherly voice coming out of my TV, sharing the most amazing footage of the deep blue. Hans Zimmer has provided the score for the series too so no doubt I’ll be an emotional wreck after each episode!

Having a poor bedtime routine – my bedtime routine is something along the lines of: take off make up (un)properly, brush teeth, take a book to bed in the hope that I’ll actually read it (and then end up scrolling through social media for a half hour) and try to have a normal conversation with Andrew before passing out. Not too impressive is it? Reading this article gave me new inspiration – and a good laugh too!!

 

Have a great week folks!! x

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

I have known some amazing people in my life; people who have broadened my mind and taught me life lessons that no classroom ever could. There was once the young heroine who travelled between parallel worlds, using a knife to cut through the curtain that separated them. And the girl who shared the power of language with adults at a time when the world was falling apart.  Oh! And the boy with autism who solved a mystery about a murdered dog!

And while admittedly none of these people were actually real, they existed so vividly in my mind that they became familiar, like someone I had known forever. It never ceases to amaze me how I can fall in love with/detest/fear/pity characters that are purely fictional and yet, while I am reading the pages their world is contained in, I am so engrossed that they become a part of my own little world.

Yes, this is the magic of a good book. It pulls at your heart, making you feel a longing that you didn’t know existed. A good book will leave you in mourning for weeks.

Naturally, there are a lot of blog posts around this time of year full of book recommendation as we prepare for the season of hibernation. Books provide an escape, an adventure that we are denied during the darker months when things are slower and a little safer. There are thousands of stories that we can read that will scoop us up from our couch and transport us somewhere entirely new and exciting but for logistical reasons I am choosing eight for the autumn and winter that should just about see me (and hopefully you) through to spring.

My taste in books doesn’t discriminate; you’ll find a mix of genres here so I am confident that you will find one that you can add to your list. And, as always, I am open to lots of suggestions so please share with me the books you are choosing for your dormant hours.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One – Philip Pullman

If you haven’t read Philip Pullman’s epic ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy then you have been missing something truly magical from your life! Although the series was marketed to young adults, the themes of the book speak to all ages with elements of fantasy, philosophy and theology all thrown in. It’s been 17 years since the release of the last book in the series, a book which made me cry at the age of 20 and I, along with the an army of fans, have been waiting a long time to meet Lyra again. The new trilogy is an “equel” as it is both a prequel and a sequel all wrapped in to one with the first book released today. I’ll be waiting by the door like a giddy child until it arrives in my hands!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

This is a non-fiction book, not my usual cup of tea but the story was so tragically fascinating that I couldn’t put it down. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, that came from Lacks’ cervical cancer cells in 1951. It sounds heavy because it is, not just because it involves some medical jargon that you might need to read slowly but also because it addresses the painful history of racial politics within medicine. Despite this, I still think it’s an important read because the author doesn’t just throw out scientific facts but bravely tells the story of a woman who, unbeknownst to her family, changed the course of medicine and scientific research. A powerful read but one that might take a while to get through.

All The Light We Cannot See – Antony Doerr

I have just started this and have already fallen in love. It tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who along with her father has taken refuge in a coastal city while the Nazis invade Paris. Her story collides with Werner, a German orphan who is fighting for Hitler Youth and who are about to face attack from the American bombers. I had read about this book after it won the Pulitzer prize back in 2015 and suggested it for my book club in work so I have high hopes that there will be positive reviews all round at the next meeting!

The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris

I’m going to sound extremely American here but…. My psychologist recommended me this book! I started seeing her about a year 6-8 months ago because it’s something the Cystic Fibrosis team encourage us to do since it can obviously be a bit stressful living with this nasty illness. The thing is, I hardly ever discuss CF and we mainly chat about the day-to-day stresses that all of us experience because these are the most consistent worries we have. This book encourages the reader to move away from the belief that we must be happy all the time in order for us to live a fulfilled life. In fact, the more we strive for happiness the more we will suffer in the long term. The author provides mindfulness skills on how to escape the “happiness trap” that will reduce stress and worry. I’ve just started it but can’t wait to learn a new way of thinking that could possibly change the way I live – no pressure of course!

Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has gained recent notoriety after her book ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was turned in to a TV show this year and shamefully, I hadn’t read any of her books before hearing about her. This will soon be remedied though as Andrew bought me this book as a birthday present and I can’t wait to get stuck in to it! The author has described the story as “adventure romance” which sounds like a mixed bag but I’m totally down with it. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize back in 2003 and has great reviews to support which sells it even more.

All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Cormac is well known for his bleak themes that dominate most of his work (The Road was not an easy read!) but this book is a little more romantic and hopefully a little easier to digest. I’ve started reading it and while the dialogue is a little different, I quite like the approach since it feels like I’m getting inside the character’s head. The book tells the tale of John Grady Cole, a 16 year old ranger who grew up on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas who runs away after learning that the ranch is to be sold. A wild western book that will surely feel a lot different to my life in Belfast!

Rising Strong – Brené Brown

I’d heard about Brené Brown at a recent blogger’s retreat when the speaker, Mel Wiggins, quoted her in one of her talks. The quote was,

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow and shame.”

Wowza. Hearing that quote stirred something within me and I knew immediately I had to hear more words from this woman so of course I went straight on to Amazon and ordered a copy of Rising Strong. In this book Brené discusses how the process of rising after a fall, regardless of its magnitude, teaches us the most about who we are. It sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to get deep in to it in the depths of winter.

The Christmas Chronicles – Nigel Slater

Odd to throw a recipe book in to the mix but this isn’t just your ordinary cookbook. Nigel is the most delicious writer and this book his is ode to winter; the season for crisp mornings, candlelight and promise of snow. It was released today and I have pre-ordered it in time for the holidays when I maybe need inspiration more than any other time of the year. I can’t wait to snuggle up with it by the fire and no doubt drool all over it.

 

Happy reading!!

 

If you like this article, then give this one a whirl if you’re struggling with finding time to read or this one if you are in need of finding a new bookshop.

What Not To Worry About #40

What Not To Worry About #40

Happy Monday friends! As I write this, I am curled up on my couch, watching hurricane Ophelia whirl herself around my wee house making it creak like it’s about to take off ‘Wizard of Oz’-style in a matter of minutes. It’s a beautiful name for a storm that could potentially wreak havoc on an island that isn’t quite used to dealing with anything remotely tropical but we are used to rain, lots of rain, so despite meteorologists urging us to take the warnings seriously there is little chance that a few drops of rain and wind will spook us too much. I hope.

Before Ophelia greeted us she pushed some weird weather our way over the weekend; lots of mizzly rain with temperatures warmer than they had been for months. I had planned to meet an Instagram pal on Saturday to take some photos and was hoping the weather might clear a little. Alas we were forced to brave the drizzle and skipped around the Argory getting our toes thoroughly soaked in the process but in the end we came away with some very pretty snaps that I think made the trench foot worth it.

Mel and I became friendly over Instagram after I immediately fell in love with her writing. She writes a wonderful blog that is full of content that lifts you up and pushes you forward, championing women and their wide range of ambitions and dreams. Mel believes that if you are passionate about something then you should let nothing stop you from pursuing it and has proven that herself in what she has accomplished. She was recently awarded an MBE for her work in anti-human trafficking, she organises seasonal gatherings to bring together local creatives hoping to make connections, she is raising two kids and on top of that she writes for her blog among other publications. Freakin’ wonder woman, right?

Online relationships are commonplace in our modern society but what is becoming even more common are the friendships that are formed through social media. Little communities are created among people who have a united passion, who want to encourage creativity in others and receive support for the work they produce which is predominantly shared online. Some of these friendships can be more fruitful and rewarding that those we have in real life and although we may never even get to meet the person behind the screen, it doesn’t make them any less valid.

Luckily Mel is only down the road from me but it really got me thinking of all the amazing people I have been able to meet through Instagram and the blog. By creating connections with people who inspire me and attending events like Mel’s gatherings or Emma’s retreat, I have opened up a whole new world for myself and forged friendships that maybe wouldn’t have happened if not for the online world. It’s a new age we’re living in and I feel damn lucky to be a part of it.

Now, on to the worries I am letting go of this week. Here’s the weekly list for today, I hope you are reading it from a safe wee spot, preferably wrapped in a blanket with a cup of tea warming your mittens…

Speaking the same love language as my partner – when I drove down to Kerry a couple of weeks ago with my pal Rebecca, we got in to a very deep chat about the different love languages that exist between partners and how couples should figure out their respective language in order to make the relationship work (deep I know but a road trip will do that to ya). Since then I came across this article and I found it fascinating and so eye-opening – definitely worth a read.

Making light of sexual harassment – I have been engrossed in articles relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal since it emerged and what surprised me most was how unsurprised I was at the ability of a successful man to continually harass and abuse women for decades. Women are victims of this kind of harassment from such a young age it’s like we become immune and stop feeling shocked which in turn, only allows for this kind of behaviour to be acceptable. I read this piece on my favourite website and the comments moved and enraged me so much. Maybe the actions of this horrific man has started an important movement – who knows?

Confusing comparison with inspiration – sometimes when I read someone’s work, look at their beautiful photos or watch them talk I am filled with this feeling of despondence. I wonder to myself if I could ever achieve success like theirs and hate myself for comparing myself to them when in actually fact I should be relishing in being inspired. I should be taking notes or thinking how their work might better my own because being inspired by someone usually ignites the passion you needed to succeed in the first place. Lesson ongoing!

Wearing pumps – I think that ship has sailed now as I got my feet soaked at the weekend. Winter boots at the ready!

Dark mornings – I got up in the dark for the first time this morning which wasn’t too fun but what I have started doing is meditating right after my breakfast. I’ve been using the Headspace app and using a few minutes in the morning to relax and regroup before work. I’m hoping it’ll make the dark mornings a little easier to bear – worth a go for a few weeks!

 

Have a great week folks!

 

 

 

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn is a season of sounds. Leaves crunching underfoot, the cooler winds howling at night, the first fire crackling in the hearth. Nature puts on the finest display for us before the famine of winter when we are robbed of foliage and fruit and the sun barely makes it over the horizon to warm our ruddy faces. There is nothing more autumnally glorious to me than the sensation of bitterly cold air nipping at my nose and ears, threatening to take away all sensation before escaping in to the warmth of the house where a hot bath awaits me.

But before we retreat indoors we must absorb every little bit of the harvest season by foraging for the treasures we miss so much in those long winter months. Being from Armagh, the orchard county of Ireland, I’m a cute hoor and have many opportunities to gather the last of the season’s produce whether it be plums, damsons and as always, the faithful Bramley apple. The bramley is something of an icon in Armagh and it’s been the principal variety to be grown here for almost a century. It’s blossom decorates the Armagh countryside in May and it’s green skin turns red in the heat of the late summer; even the apples get sunburned in Ireland!

 

I popped down to my friend’s orchard about a fortnight ago to gather some apples before the end of the season and as usual I came away with too many to use. Last year I made an apple tart but this year I wanted to use the blackberries I had picked from the roadside at home a few weeks before and thought an apple and blackberry crumble would be just friggin’ lovely as a midweek treat for two. Of course this recipe can be used for a rustic dinner party or to cheer up a mate or to just eat in one big bowl by yourself when you’ve had a shitty day. Your choice my friend, no judgement here.

I hope you can give it a whirl but more than that I hope you are embracing Autumn and all of its amazingness because this is the time to start doing things for you. Summer can be a hurricane of plans and commitments but as the colder months unfurl we are treated with weekends to ourselves, moments when we can actually revisit the things we cast aside in the summer haze. Let the briskness and sharpness of the change in seasons wake you up to what truly makes you happy and get out and do it.


Apple & Blackberry Crumble 

Ingredients

For the crumble topping:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces

For the fruit compote:

  • 300g Bramley apples
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 30g demerara sugar
  • 115g blackberries
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • vanilla
  • big dollop of ice cream

Method

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter, then rub into the flour using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture – try not to overwork it! Sprinkle the mixture evenly over a baking sheet and bake for 15 mins or until lightly coloured.
  2. Meanwhile, for the compote, peel, core and cut the apples into 2cm dice. Put the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cook for 3 mins until the mixture turns to a light caramel. Stir in the apples and cook for 3 mins. Add the blackberries and cinnamon, and cook for 3 mins more. Cover, remove from the heat, then leave for 2-3 mins to continue cooking in the warmth of the pan.
  3. To serve, spoon the warm fruit into an ovenproof gratin dish, top with the crumble mix, then reheat in the oven for 5-10 mins. Serve with a big scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream – yum!